Worlds Worst: PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER 1; Serial Killers, Cold-Blooded Murderers and Gun-Toting Gangsters. Each Week Former Top West Midlands Detective JOHN PLIMMER Looks at the Most Notorious Criminal Figures of the Last Century -and How They Were Caught. Gangster Who Led Killing Spree across Mid-West America

Article excerpt

Byline: JOHN PLIMMER

TO the Depression-hit America of the 1930s, the exploits of the midwestern gangsters who robbed banks and outwitted cops struck a chord.

And like so many gun-toting mobsters, John Dillinger became a cavalier and legendary figure amongst the povertystricken population.

But the manwho indirectly brought an end to the gangster era was nothing more than a cold-blooded killer and ruthless armed robber whose life ended on a Chicago street in July, 1934.

John Herbert Dillinger was born on June 22, 1903, in Indianapolis. His mother died three years later so he was raised by a caring but disciplined father against whom he rebelled.

After school he worked in a factory, but couldn't hold the job down when he began getting into trouble with the police.

The family moved to a farm in nearby Mooresville in the hope that young Dillinger would settle into a rural life but it proved a lost cause. He was soon in court on car-theft charges.

With the encouragement of his father, Dillinger joined the US Navy. But he deserted in 1924 and returned to Mooresville, where he joined forces with local hoodlum Ed Singleton.

His outlook on life changed dramatically after he and Singleton were arrested for a robbery at a small grocery shop.

Dillinger was given a severe sentence of 10 to 20 years and for the next eight years lived the life of an embittered man in the Indianapolis State Penitentiary.

He was paroled in 1933 and wasted no time in earning a reputation as a guntoting gangster.

After robbing a bank in Ohio, Dillinger found himself once again in the arms of the law and was locked up in the Limar county jail, Ohio, to await trial.

But weeks later four hoods purporting to be cops visited the jail and told the sheriff they were there to take Dillinger back to Indianapolis for breaches of parole.

The sheriff wasn't fooled -so they shot him dead before taking the keys and releasing Dillinger.

Because no federal laws had been broken, the FBI was prevented from joining the hunt for the escaped criminal.

During the months that followed a series of banks were robbed and cops killed as the Dillinger gang blazed a murderous trail across the mid-west.

Newspapers reported on their every move as the mobsters even forced their way into police arsenals, leaving with armfuls of machine guns, pistols and bullet-proof vests.

They robbed, looted and killed their way from Indiana to Florida until the gang's luck changed in January, 1934.

After a fire at aTucson hotel where they were in hiding, police arrested Dillinger and three of his mobsters.

A small armoury of sub-machine guns and bullet-proof vests was recovered and the gangster was eventually transferred to thecounty jail in Crown Point, Indiana, to await trial for murder.

It took just six weeks for Dillinger to escape. He threatened guards with an imitation gun he'd carved out of a piece of wood, then stole a police car and drove across the state boundary.

He had, at last, committed a federal offence, giving the FBI the opportunity they'd beenwaiting for -andtheybecame legally authorised to hunt Dillinger down.

The gangster made his way to Chicago where he lay low with girlfriend Evelyn Frechette. Soon he formed another gang which included Lester Gillis -better known as Baby Face Nelson.

Cash soon began to pour in as they robbed banks almost daily until one fateful day in March, 1934.

FBI agents surroundedanapartment in which Dillinger and Frechette were staying.

In the ensuing gunfight Dillinger was hit but managed to escape. He and his girlfriend fled to his father's house in Mooresville.

While he was recuperating, Frechette left to visit a friend in Chicago where she was picked up by the FBI and later sentenced to three years for assisting a fugitive. …